Thanks to Douglas Fraser of the Herald for revealing why Mike Russell stopped his blog. Fraser wrote last Monday,
“Mike Russell, the environment minister, has stopped blogging publicly, as his online candour was beginning to clash with his contract of employment, in that he is not supposed to say anything publicly that could undermine Executive policy. As reported in The Herald on Saturday, the blog’s demise was hastened by a gentle rant against an unnamed Hebridean hotel that met with his displeasure; poor service, lousy value for money, no food in the late evening, flooded bathroom, drafty windows, etc etc. This was deemed to be unhelpful to the Western Isles tourism industry. That may be true, but I think it’s a great help to those of us who have had that experience in poor quality, overpriced hotels around Scotland. Learning to complain, and focussing on the customer experience, should be the norm if tourism is to prosper. And if a minister leads the debate on that, it’s all to the good. Bring back your blog, minister!
“In preparing that story for Saturday’s paper, I phoned the manager of a well-known Hebridean hotel and asked if he felt the criticism was fair – specifically citing the claim that you can’t get a meal later in the evening. “Well, it may well be the case that you can’t get a meal,” he replied, thoughtfully, “because we’re not Chinese or Indians”. I’m still not sure what he meant, but it makes most sense if said in a Hebridean accent.”
No comment needed on that, I think.
“It must, of course, be said that hotels and tourist facilities have improved greatly over the past generation – which makes the continuing few failures more culpable than ever and more obvious than ever.
“To take the positives first, the last time I stayed in the Caberfeidh in Stornoway it was distinctly average and very impersonal. Now it is freshened up , with a very good restaurant and a compliment of staff who want to help. I had not been in the Castlebay , in Castle Bay, for about twenty years and whilst it has changed little it remains friendly and accommodating.
“There are also some new places – we had a great meal in the very modern but very well designed Taigh Dearg in Lochmaddy and I wish I could have stayed there but alas it was fully booked.
“But others have done less well. Cal Mac is still fairly poor on customer service although the exception is the new ferry from Berneray to Harris, which was well appointed and had a coffee machine. A contrast to the surly barman on the Oban run, and the arbitrary bar opening hours.
“But the biggest problems remains those hotels who regard tourists as there only to be fleeced and whose idea of service and quallity is a joke. Hotels, in other words like the one we stayed in at one one stage of our journey which combined a complete lack of attention to detail coupled with a cavalier regard for value for money.
“In this place the first room that Cathleen and I were offered had to be abandoned because of a flooded bathroom (the initial reaction of the youth at the desk to Cathleen’s complaint was simply to say that “someone had told him before about it “). The windows were draughty, the bathrooms needed decoration, the food was undistinguished and the service (through no fault of the various European nationalities working there who were doing so without obvious support or management) the careless remnant of another age . The low point was the attempt by some of my colleagues who had spoken at our public meeting to get food at 9.00pm. They were told simply that the kitchen was closed , despite the fact that the staff were obviously eating.
“And all this in a hotel which advertises itself as something special and which has a largely captive market. “Contrast that (for example) to the Crown Hotel in Stornoway last night, who readily agreed to provide a meal for a dozen of us after that public meeting , did so with a full menu in the their dining room and produced an excellent repast…!!”
I think the problem may have been that Russell and colleagues were after a waldorf salad.
Anyway, the fuss seems to have arisen in a fairly balanced post about experience of holidaying in the Western Isles, one negative comment balanced against positive comments about named hotels. However, the Western Isles was a marginal SNP gain by Alasdair Allan at the last Scottish Parliamentary election and the politics of the matter are that the constituency is virtually identical at Westminster, and again a marginal seat. To my mind this is not an Executive issue – as suggested by Fraser – but a party political issue. This is one of the problems of blogging. You have to be careful what you say.
I personally would like to see Russell resume posting as his blog was an entertaining and informative read.